Quinceañeras to flattop Jerry Rice: this Mission photo studio has been 'making it hot' for 100 years
Dore Studio's slogan is "make it hot."
Walk by the vintage glamour photo studio on Mission Street and it's clear what that means. The windows are filled with portraits of women in flawless make-up and blown-out hair, exuding Hollywood opulence and quinceañera formality, plus a wink of shopping mall portrait nostalgia. Every image has an undeniable spark of energy that comes from owner Patricia Alvarez's lifetime of photo experience.
"You have to have something on your mind while you're being photographed. Otherwise it's blank, there's nothing," says owner and photographer Patricia Alvarez. She speaks in rapid-fire bursts, showing how she teases her models. "You look good. You're gonna have a lot of boyfriends. You'll have to get an 800-number. You've gotta make it hot."
That motto has kept the studio in business for more than a century. Originally located on Market Street, Dore moved to the Mission after the 1906 Earthquake. Alvarez's mother, Audrey Revell, purchased it in 1951 and coined the "make it hot" slogan. Ever since, it's been run as an all-female business, offering hour-long photo and makeup sessions before the portrait shoots. Its longevity earned it a recent honor from Mayor London Breed, who gave an emotional speech in which she recalled how much she wanted her photo taken there as a child.
Although Dore has become a local landmark, it's not obvious from the street just how huge it is. When asked the square footage, Alvarez just laughs. Beyond the front showroom there's a labyrinth of studios with massive lighting rigs, powder rooms, crown-molded photo facades, walls of feathered boas and a prop storage area bigger than most two bedroom San Francisco apartments. Alvarez herself lives in a house behind the shop.
"It hasn't changed, it's always been like this since I was a kid. Except the very back room was a dark room," says Alvarez. "You get to be a hoarder when you're a photographer. I never throw anything away."
Although there is one famous customer who probably wishes she wasn't such a hoarder – Jerry Rice. In 1989, the Niners wide receiver came into the studio for a portrait session for a magazine article about his family (check out the slideshow for the Jerry Rice photo). It was shortly after winning the Super Bowl (he was still waiting on his ring), and although it's inexplicable why the magazine wouldn't just send out their own photographer, Rice loved the photos so much he bought a huge print for his home – and even came back to buy more copies.
"He still had hair!" exclaimed Alvarez.
The image with Rice sporting a fierce flat-top stood in the window of the shop for years, but faded so much they had to take it down (click through the above slideshow to see it in all its glory). Other celebrity photos, like a session with Chaka Khan, were lost as an unfortunate consequence of the days before everything was easily digitized.
Many things have changed over its century of history, but Dore has always found a way to adapt. Its glamorous style fit right in with the aesthetic of the '50s and '60s, but the hippie era of the '70s brought along hard times, as women preferred a more natural look. Thankfully they found a new source of customers in the African American community.
"Nobody was really catering to that group. Nobody knew how to photograph them, because of their skin colors. And to make them look beautiful, with the right colors and tones."
Today Dore still does plenty of personal glamour shots, as well as family portraits and holiday photos, but many newcomers to the neighborhood aren't taking photos for Christmas cards or baptism ceremonies. It led to an unlikely shift towards a lighter style.
"I had to figure out how to target this market of tech people," says Alvarez. She's not sure how, but a stream of corporate clients like Yelp and Genentech began rewarding their employees with photo sessions. "They don't want serious pictures, they want crazy, silly pictures. It's an opportunity for me to open up my image." Now the glamour shots on her website are contrasted with Bob Ross and Will Ferrell parodies, and they might soon expect another wave of new customers, inspired by country singer Kacey Musgraves' recent viral photo shoot at a similar Los Angeles portrait studio.
Although the so-old-it's-new campiness may be much of the appeal to younger audiences, there are still plenty of customers who come for Dore's signature glamorous looks. Even as photo studios become relics of the past, making it hot hasn't gone out of style, because what Dore offers simply can't be recreated with a camera phone.
"These days you can't just sell something, it's got to be an experience. You've got to pull something from inside. It's not so much the picture, it's the experience."